How To Create Awesome Slideshow Presentations In iMovie

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Want to produce slideshows that go beyond simple cross dissolves and single track background music? Apple’s iMovie for Mac OS X can help you create a professional looking slideshow presentations with few prior skills.

We have covered several online solutions and mobile applications for creating slideshows, and you can also create slideshows in iPhoto or Aperture. But as today’s article shows, iMovie provides a few more controls for adding titles, controlling the Ken Burns panning effects, and adjusting the volume and fading of background music.

iMovie 11, along with other iLife programs, comes pre-installed with new Mac computer purchases. If you don’t have the latest version installed on your older Mac, you can download it from the Mac App Store for $14.99. Most of the instructions shown in this tutorial also apply to iMovie 10.

Photo Preparation

Before you begin your slideshow production in iMovie, you should crop and edit your photos in iPhoto or Aperture. Though photos can also be cropped and enhanced in iMovie, it’s easier to get the job done in one of the Apple photo applications.

Crop photos

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Next, create a album of all the photos and arrange them in the order you want them presented. Though you can arrange the order of photos for slideshows in iMovie, it’s easier to organize them in iPhoto or Aperture first, and then rearrange a few of them in iMovie as needed.

It might also be a good idea to actually select your photos and create a slideshow in iPhoto (File > New Slideshow) or Aperture (File > New > Slideshow) to get an idea of how it will look. For your trial run draft, simply use the classic or Ken Burns theme in one of the photo applications in order to preview the length of slideshow and the arrangement of photos. This step is optional, but you might find it a little time saver before creating a slideshow in iMovie where you can do more fine tuning of the Ken Burns effects.

IPhoto theme

Creating a Slideshow In iMovie

If you haven’t used iMovie much, don’t feel intimidated by its layout and controls. iMovie basically has the similar drag-and-drop and editing features found in iPhoto and Aperture. The biggest challenge will be adjusting the panning effects and, if needed, the soundtrack fades of your slideshow.

When you open iMovie, your iPhoto (or Aperture) library will be listed in the left side panel of iMovie, as well as a section for managing your iMovie Library projects. By default, iMovie organizes all your imported movies and photos by date. If you have never used iMovie, it will create an event with the current day assigned as the title, which can be changed by double-clicking on it and creating a new title.

Creating A Slideshow

1. Select a theme for your project. You can click on a theme and preview it to get an idea of it motion effects. Depending upon your project, the Simple, Photo Album, Comic Book or Scrapbook theme works best for photo slideshows.


Note: After applying a theme to a project, it can be changed to a different one by selecting the project (and deselecting clips in the timeline), and then clicking on the Settings button under the toolbar.

2. Give your slideshow a title (which can be changed) and select an event to place it in. When the new project is created, a blank timeline will appear.

3. Click on your iPhoto or Aperture library and locate the album of photos you created. Double-click to open it.

Aperture album

4. If your photos are in the order you want them, select them all and drag them to the timeline. You can also drag and select each photos based on the order you want. Even after the photos placed in the timeline, they can still be re-arranged. If for example you don’t like the photo that appears in the cover theme, drag and drop another photo at the beginning of the timeline.

With your project selected, hit spacebar to play a preview of the slideshow before you start editing. Notice when you place a mouse cursor inside the viewer window, the viewer controls appear for starting and pausing the video, playing one or more selected clips a time, skipping back and forth between single clips, or playing the movie in full screen mode.

Viewer controls

Add Background Music

Before you begin editing the panning effects and the length of your slideshow, you should add your choice of background music. Try to match the combination of panning effects and music to the content of the photos as much as possible.

You can access music tracks in your iTunes library in the Content Library section of iMovie, or locate your tracks and drag them to the timeline. You can also select a track in the library and hit the E key to quickly add it to the timeline. The video tutorial at the top of this article illustrates how to add and edit tracks in the timeline.

Editing Your Slideshow

The panning effects initially applied to clips in iMovie will not always be exactly how you want them, so editing the Ken Burns effects is where you will probably spend the bulk of your time. Note that iMovie saves your project as you work, and it has an unlimited number of undo states.

Before you start editing, you might want to increase the viewing size of the clips so they can be easily selected and edited. Do this by clicking film strip icon on the right, and the increase the size.

IMovie clip size

Also notice in the timeline you can see the current length of the slideshow, the timing between each clip, and when you place your cursor over a clip, iMovie shows the length of the clip.

Other Editing Features and Sharing

Though iMovie themes can’t be totally customized, clicking on the Transitions and Titles section of iMovie does allow for changing the transition and title styles in a theme.


To change the transition style, select a different style and drag it onto an existing style in the timeline. iMovie gives the option to apply the style to a single transition or to all of them.

IMovie transitions

Additional title clips and credits can also be selected and dragged into the timeline.

IMovie titles

When your slideshow is done, iMovie makes it easy to export your project to either a movie file, email, or a social network site. You might also want to export your slideshow to iTunes and iMovie Theatre.

IMovie sharing

Your iMovie Tips

While creating slideshows in iMovie requires more steps than creating them in one of Apple’s photo applications, or online applications, the extra work provides a more polished slideshow presentation.

Do you have any favourite iMovie tips? What could Apple do to improve the free video editor? Have your say in the comments, below.

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Comments (13)
  • Pardis

    Hi, I am adding a track to my slides to play at the background, however there is bit in the middle of the track (2 second of a 3 minute track) I want to remove/cut from the whole track and continue with the rest of the music.

    Could you tell me how would i do it .


    • Bakari Chavanu

      Pardis, you should be able to slice the music track like you do a video clip. Have you tried that?

  • Bakari Chavanu

    Hi Jenny, I haven’t used iMovie much since I wrote this article. I suggest raising your question on the Apple support site. There are plenty of iMovie users who can answer your question better than I.

  • jenny

    I am creating a slideshow animation (using quick durations) and when I try and drag a transition into the timeline, it shows a green plus sign but it won’t allow me to actually drop it in the timeline. Has this ever happened to you before?

  • Kim

    Thank you for your fabulous instructions in showing the basics for iMovie. This was very helpful. So appreciated!

  • amber

    but why do you have to do this it doesn’t help me at all so someone please help me with this it doesn’t work with me some how

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